KALAMKARI – Un Told Story


Kalamkari is an exquisite ancient craft of painted and printed fabrics. It derives its name from Kalam meaning pen and Kari meaning work, literally Pen work. The hand painted version of Kalamkari is done at Srikalahasti whereas its printed counterpart is practiced at Masulipatnam. Kalamkari art has evolved through trial and error over the last 3000 years. Techniques of craftsmanship in Kalamkari were handed down within the families from generation to generation.

India is rich in art and craft and Kalamkari which is painted on cloth is done in several parts of India and Iran. In Andhra Pradesh, both the Masulipatnam and Srikalahasti towns are recognized as major centers for Kalamkari painting. Masulipatnam located on the south-east coast of India, 200 miles east of Hyderabad and Srikalahasti 80 miles north of Chennai near Tirupati are the leaders in producing Kalamkari paintings. Kalamkari as practiced in Masulipatnam is different from the Kalamkari practiced in Srikalahasti.

The natural dyestuffs used in this craft are inexpensive and freely available in many parts of the country. These decorated fabrics were either used as temple backcloths. Today the chemical dyes have replaced the natural dyes in both the centers.

Unlike other centers of Kalamkari, the craftsmen of Srikalahasti still use the ancient techniques of dyeing, which they had inherited from the earlier days. The wall hangings drawn free hands are the most popular creations of the craftsmen. Hindu mythology is the main source of inspiration. Some of the craftsmen in Srikalahasti also produce beautiful textile materials drawn free hand.


In ancient times, groups of singers, musicians and painters called the Chitrakattis, moved from place to place to narrate the great stories of Hindu mythology. They illustrated their accounts using large bolts of canvas painted on the spot with rudimentary means and dyes extracted from plants. Thus, the first Kalamkari had been born. Hindu epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Shiv Purana and Vishnu Purana, all were narrated and illustrated in elaborate ornate styles with vibrant color palette.

During 18th century, it was practiced all over the coromandal coast; it was from here that it came into the notice of the Portuguese. They used to call it ‘Pintago’, the Dutch called it ‘sitz’ and the English called it ‘chintz’.

Tools and Raw Material:

  • Kalam: Bamboo pen is the most important tool used in painting process. This is made of bamboo reed and is tied by a cotton thread. Two types of Kalam are prepared for outlining and filling process.
  • The cotton cloth used for fabric printing is locally called as gaada.
  • The buffalo milk is used to treat the cloth which helps to avoid color spreading.
  • Vegetable dye stuffs like myrobalan flower and myrobalan bud used to make the black dye permanent.
  • Chavalakodi and Suruduchekka are the two types of roots which are procured from local forest areas are grounded into powder to obtain red color. Pomegranate skin is used to obtain yellow color.
  • Alum is the moderant used in dyeing process.
  • The tamarind stems are burned and made into charcoal. This charcoal is used for initial sketching.

Every color used is symbolic to something. Blue is for deities and Gods. Black and red are associated with demons. Green is used for lord Hanuman. Yellow and white are used for body skin color. Yellow is also used for ornaments.

So, Kalamkari inevitably is the pride of our handloom sector which the country boasts for.


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